by Ambra Visentin

The determined voice of Egyptian journalist Rasha Nabil, presenter of the Dubai-based Emirati channel Al Arabyia, has now reached every corner of the world, thanks to an strong interview with Khaled Meshaal, the former political leader and still one of the top figures in Hamas. But it was not only the content of the exchange that boosted the ratings of the tweeted video, but also who conducted and broadcast the interview.

Media voices in the pan-Arab landscape

Al Arabiya is a Dubai-based television channel founded in 2003 in the United Arab Emirates. It is the Emirati answer to al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar. Al Arabiya’s backers include the Lebanese Hariri Group (which has invested a good 300 million dollars through a Saudi media conglomerate MBC Group), Saudi, Kuwaiti and Persian Gulf investors. It is the most watched channel in the Middle East. What makes the ‘fiery’ exchange between Nabil and Meshaal stand out in the global media landscape is certainly the direct and openly critical nature of the uncomfortable questions put to the leader. But that’s not all: it was a pan-Arab channel that pushed the exponent into a corner, through the incisive reporting of an Arab-Muslim journalist (who was not wearing a veil). This is a different approach to that of rival Qatar-based Al Jazeera, one of the main financiers of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the operational arm in Palestine. It should be remembered that in 2017 the Gulf state was cornered by its neighbours Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in an unprecedented move that isolated it precisely because of its excessive Islamic fundamentalism and guaranteed support for extremist movements.

Another difference between the two news channels is that Al Jazeera has two versions: an international English version, which is more moderate, and an Arabic version, which is more radical. Al Arabyia, on the other hand, only addresses the Arab world. In fact, an English version exists only on its website.

Civilian casualties

In the interview, Nabil confronted the Hamas leader with pointed questions. “How can you demand that the West and the world at large support the Palestinian cause when the things Hamas has done to Israeli civilians are in the news?” the journalist pressed, continuing, “Is it part of Hamas’ ideology to treat civilians in this way?” Meshaal stressed that the Islamist organisation that rules the Gaza Strip focuses its resistance on soldiers, but that in all wars there are civilian casualties. “We are not responsible for them.”

Again, the moderator confronted him on the issue of responsibility for civilians killed: “Are you going to apologise for what happened to Israeli civilians on 7 October?” But Meshaal threw the ball back into the net, pointing out that “an apology should be demanded from Israel. Hamas does not deliberately kill civilians, the focus is on the soldiers.” But according to the Israeli army, only 300 of the 1,400 people killed after the Hamas attack on Israel were soldiers. Most are civilians.

Attack or declaration of war?

During the interview, Nabil stressed that she did not consider the Hamas attack to be “just any attack”, but rather a declaration of war. “That’s why some people ask, what kind of Israeli reaction did you expect?” she said. “The people of Gaza are experiencing a great human tragedy, but the attack was decided by you alone. No one was consulted about the attacks,” Meshaal replied. Nabil also pressed him on the possible opening of another front in Israel with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia. The situation of the population is already serious and war is the last thing they need. A resistance he makes clear by mentioning that “Khaled Mashal sits in an air-conditioned room and talks about war.”

Support for the Palestinian cause

The Hamas leader sees no contradiction in the actions of the terrorist group. This position is also confirmed by the call he made two weeks ago to the entire Muslim world to support the Palestinians and for the peoples of neighbouring countries to join the struggle against Israel. Meshaal, who lives in Qatar, said that the governments and peoples of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt had the greatest duty to support the Palestinians.

Support is also coming from North Africa, where demonstrations have been taking place for two weeks. In Morocco, the only North African State to have signed one of the four Abraham accords with Israel, the anger is also directed at the leadership itself. The Islamic Conservative PJD party, in power until 2021, has opposed the king’s rapprochement with Israel. On 7 October, Morocco condemned “attacks against civilians, whatever their nationality” and later pledged to help the Palestinians create an independent State. Unlike Tunisia and Algeria, Morocco sent its foreign minister to the last summit in Cairo. Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed said he had “gratefully declined” the invitation. His first reaction after the Hamas attack was: “We fully support the Palestinians in their quest for freedom.”

Read the fact sheet to find out more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict